What does a Princeton graduate whose old dream it was to write for the New Yorker do when that dream comes true, only to discover that his cherished magazine is no longer the middlebrow arbiter of high culture of his imagining, but just another media outlet frantic for its market share of mass culture? On one level Nobrow is the story of this rude awakening, the Bildungsroman of a smart ex-preppie caught between the old 'Townhouse' of good taste, as vetted by the New Yorker of lore, and the new 'Megastore' where culture and marketing are one, as exemplified by the Star Wars industry. Born to the old world ('taste was my cultural capital, boiled down to a syrup'), John Seabrook, a critic at large for the New Yorker, wanders in the new, but this desert of 'Nobrow' - where the old 'brow' distinctions no longer seem to apply - is not so arid to him. In fact he drinks more deeply at the oases of Nobrow culture (a Chemical Brothers concert, for example, which he experiences as 'an intense moment of ecstatic communion with youth') than he does in the gardens of highbrow culture - 'interesting plays, the Rothko show, the opera and, sometimes, downtown happenings'.
LRB 21 September 2000 | PDF Download